Sunday, April 27, 2008

I'm loving the Canon EOS400D!

As you may have guessed from this blog, I love photography, particularly of places, people and scenery in new countries.

I've always loved photography, building up a reasonably solid Pentax SLR kit in my early twenties, and spending a fortune developing pictures of pasta shells and tinted cars (Cokin filters were all the rage!).

My next camera was one of the early Canon mini-point and shoot models - the predecessor to the Canon Ixus.

It took me ages to get into the digital camera age - I'd spent a fortune on the Pentax kit, and I loved the panorama shots the Canon compact could take. But it was just before a trip to New Zealand in 2000, that I bought the Canon Ixus. In the last seven years, I've thrashed that trusty little camera, easily taking over 15,000 photos. Thank god storage is getting cheaper!

Over the years, I watched as the digital SLR cameras improved in functionality and came down in price. The more photography I did with the compact camera, the more I began to miss the additional functionality that SLR's provide - mainly more flexible zoom options.

After my trip to Morocco earlier this year, I finally took the digital SLR plunge and bought a Canon EOS400D. It seems to be one of the most popular and well-reviewed cameras on the market, and seemed to be a formidable competitor to Nikon's D-range of cameras. I don't think I really could have gone wrong by choosing either brand, but after much reading, researching and speaking with Camera shop assistants, I went for the Canon.

I could have gone for the higher end camera bodies such as the 1D, 4D or 5D, but I figured that I'd re-familiarise myself with SLR photography and functionality before committing to a more expensive model. And for the same reason, I chose the standard kit lens - an 18-55mm lens, which so far, has been a great walk-about lens.

I have always been fascinated by zoom lenses, and decided pretty quickly that I wanted a bigger zoom lens. I was keen to get one of the new Canon ES image stablised zoom lenses, and again, after more researching and playing, decided on the Canon EF-S 55-250mm IS lens.

This lens is equivalent to a 88-400mm focal length in non-digital/film cameras, which I reckoned was big enough to practice with while I got used to shooting with the longer lens. It's also one of the first EF-S lenses built for the digital camera bodies.

I've had this lens for about a month now, and have taken nearly 1,000 shots, in Singapore, London and Bratislava. It definitely takes some getting used to - as far as keeping the camera still, but I've been pretty happy with some of the shots I've taken so far, all of which I've done without a tripod. With any of this stuff, it's a matter of practice, practice, practice!

When I go to Turkey in two weeks, I'll take the camera and both lenses, a couple of batteries and a couple of memory cards - a slightly bigger kit bag than I'm used to, but hey! I know I'll need both the short and longer focal length lens. I can't wait to snap my way through Turkey - the images I've seen of the place are stunning, and I'm hoping I can come back with a few amazing pics of my own. :-).

Sunday, April 20, 2008

A new format (and sibling) for A Surplice of Adventure!

I was fiddling around with this blog earlier in the week, and inadvertently upgraded the template on which it's based. That was all well and good, and the new format is much easier to edit and update, but it seemed to overwrite some stuff. Anyway, bare with me while I fix it up. I hope to keep the travels pics rolling in the mean time!

I've also recently launched a new blog - A Surplice of Spirit, which will document my voyage of discovery and entrepreneurship into the holistic therapies industry.

I've spent the last 18 months retraining as a massage therapist, and will be heading back to Australia shortly to start my own business. It's a hugely exciting adventure, although quite different from the ones I've been rambling about on this blog.

I will still enjoy playing tourist as I re-bond with my family and friends back home, and I'm hoping to thrash my trusty Canon DSLR, taking photos of what I reckon is the best country on the planet. Whoohooo!

Counting sleeps till Turkey!

Hoorah! It's less than three weeks before I head off to Turkey, one of the places that I am desperate to see before I head back to Oz.

I'm travelling with the good folks at Explore! again, and doing the 15-day Asia Minor Explorer tour out of Istanbul. It's my fourth tour with them in three years. I like the size of the groups and the people are usually a great bunch of travelling buddies.

The itinerary warns us that the tour has some long driving days because there is so much ground to cover. I can imagine the landscape will be just as captivating as Turkey's cities and beaches.

Amongst many of the other sights, I'm really looking forward to seeing Cappadocia - it just seems like such a surreal place. I suspect I'll do a hot-air balloon ride (against my better judgement!) because I actually believe the brochures when it says it one of those one-in-a-lifetime sights. Now...if I can just get over my fear of balloons and naked flames, I'll be sorted.

I'm also looking forward to chilling out in Istanbul for my birthday. What a place to celebrate/commiserate lurching into my mid-late thirties :-).

I received a wee little pre-departure package from Explore last week - quite unexpectedly. It was an Explore-branded Moleskine Soft Cover Notebook. I always start a travel diary on a trip and invariably never keep it up each day - but the intention is there. Anyway, it was a nice little gift.

Cheers Explore! Hope this tour is as awesome as the Morocco, Croatia and Iceland trips were.

Nobu rocks!

I recently had one of the yummiest meals I've ever had, at London's Nobu (am a bit behind on posting here, but this momentous event took place about 2 months ago).

I'd heard about Nobu's legendary degustation menus, and we decided we'd try one of each. This would provide a selection of Nobu's signature dishes like the broiled black cod with miso and the scallop tiradito nobu style, as well as a general mix of sashimi and other amazing creations.

We teamed it with chilled sake served out of a chilled bamboo decanter and matching glasses.

It's a shame I didn't write this post a bit closer to the time, because I can't remember the names of all the dishes we tried. Suffice it to say, it was truly one of the most amazing meals. The food was exquisite in terms of presentation and freshness, and the combination of flavours was mind-bogglingly tasty.

If you love Japanese food, check out this fine restaurant. Your tastebuds will long cherish the memory after the credit card has recovered.

Ayurvedic massage in Bratislava

With my relocation to Australia looming, I took the opportunity to have one last quick weekend in Europe.
I chose to go to Bratislava, Slovakia's capital, simply because I hadn't been there, and had read that it's Old Town was picturesque.

True to it's word, it was indeed quaint and pretty. It was also fairly small, so by the end of my second day I thought I'd just about discovered as many new things in the old town as I was likely to. By chance, however, I took a different route through the cobbled streets back to my hotel, and stumbled across a large sign that said Ayurvedic Massage Centre.

Ayurvedic massage is something I'd read about, but had not yet tried. All I knew was that it originated in India and was more than just massage - it was an entire way of life that included massage, healthy eating and fitness.

So in I went, curious to find out more about how this Ayervedic Massage Centre called Darsana had found its way into Bratislava's Old Town.

The owner, Mark, was helpful and happy to explain how he'd come to set up the centre. He said he saw an opportunity to bring a different form of massage to Slovakia. Having looked around the city myself, I'd only seen Thai massage advertised. So - competition seemed pretty limited and he felt that with the increasing standard of living in Bratislava, people would be ready to pay for more exotic forms of pampering.

He explained that he'd been to India some ten years ago and liked the ayurvedic style, and had in fact, just returned from India earlier in the week. He had brought in massage therapists from the Indian state of Kerala, where ayurveda originated.

The centre itself was lovely - granite floor everywhere, neutral tones, and dimly lit. He explained that the building was originally from the 14th Century, and he'd had a hard time doing the re-fit because there were so many heritage-related regulations. He'd done a fantastic job though - it was calm, quiet and felt like a million miles away from the narrow little streets of Bratislava.

He was kind enough to show me around the therapy rooms, explaining that the wooden massage tables were authentic ayurveda style. They looked enormous, and had a two-step wooden box for the therapists to stand on while they were massaging.

Mark explained that Abhyangam is a popular ayurvedic massage that focuses on the body's seven different energy centres - called marma. I gathered that these must have been synonymous with chakras, which I was familar with, but will have to investigate further.

He then unveiled a curtain to reveal another treatment room. It looked like a huge metal pressure cooker, which he explained, pumped out steam infused with herbal oils. Called Swedanam, it was like a mini-sauna for one. He demonstrated how the client would sit on the chair, with their head poking through a hole in the top of the box, and showed where the steam was pumped out. I had visions of claustrophobia or getting stuck in there, but he assured me it was a common procedure in India and ayurvedic therapy.

Having now heard quite a bit about ayurvedic massage, I decided I needed to try it, and booked in the following day for a 45 minute Abhyangam massage, a 20 minute Shiro abhyangam (or Indian head massage), a 20-minute facial massage and a 15 minute session in the pressure cooker.

When I arrived the next day, I was shown into the change room and then into one of the therapy rooms. And so began the full body massage.

The massage therapist used a lot more oil in this form of massage than what I was used to in Swedish massage. And the focus seemed to be far more on long flowing strokes up and down the body rather than pressure work in specific areas.

The oils were scented - infused with herbs, the therapist explained, and they sought to work on re-balancing the three energies known as Doshas – Vatha, Pitta and Kapha. Vatha governs the principle of movement, the Pitta dosha is the process of transformation and Kapha is responsible for growth and adding structure.

In any case, I felt that my Dosha's were getting the right royal treatment as I pondered how amazing it is that there are so many forms of massage, all originating from different parts of the world, yet all so beneficial to one's wellbeing.

By the time I was flipped over, I felt oiler than a McDonald's french fry, but I knew that the oils and herbs were doing wonderful things to relax my body and mind.

Onto the facial, and the therapist used the most delicate strokes around my face. It felt as light as rain drops, but was incredibly relaxing. I could have snored half way through, or perhaps I was just dreaming that I did. It was drool-worthy, in any case. Then it was time to slide off the table (and I mean SLIDE), into a chair for the head massage.

Indian Head Massage - which I had tried before - is typically done on a seated client. You can elect to have it with oil or without. I went with the oil version, and the therapist began a series of rather more vigourous strokes around my head, layering in oil to the point where my hair was a mega greaseball.

Look at pretty much any Indian's hair and you'll see its typically shiny and strong - head massage is apparently a really important part of their lives. Massage of the scalp promotes hair growth and hair quality, and can help to reduce tension in the scalp, neck and shoulders.

Twenty minutes of head massage passed dreamily by and I was then shown into the pressure cooker room for my 15-minutes of Swedanam steamin'. The therapist explained that the temperature in the pressure cooker would increase, and that I could stay in there for up to 15 minutes.

She stayed in the room for pretty much the whole time, checking in on the temperature, and basically making sure I didn't faint. I felt fine, but I could see how some people may be prone to fainting in that environment. The oils simmered away - heat and steam helping my skin to absorb the oils and further promote relaxation. It was lovely! 15 minutes was about enough.

I was then led into the chillout room. I really like clinics and salons that provide a chill room. It can be fairly daunting leaving a relaxing massage and heading straight back out into the busy world. This one was warm and comfy and I was given tea and a huge fluffy blanket to sit under for a while. This process helped the oils to absorb even more.

Another client was sitting there, alo chilling out. She looked suitably happy and relaxed. We discussed our treatments and how wonderful they were, and also our surprise at finding this ayurvedica centre in Bratislava of all places!

When I left Darsana more than two hours after I'd arrived, I felt very relaxed and clear-headed. My niggling lower back ache was gone and I was smiling. Massage definitely switches on the smiley button for me.

I walked out into the warm Slovakian sun and had a light lunch in the bustling courtyard just under Michael's Gate.

It was a perfect way to spend my last morning in Bratislava. The combined cost of the four treatments equated to about £60.